Tag Archives: beauty

A Vow from a Bridesmaid’s Point of View

As we begin to approach the warm months of summer, wedding season comes into full swing. Some of us may find ourselves at a certain stage of life where “wedding season” seems to be in no particular season at all; instead, we attend, or we find ourselves a part of, weddings all year round. But, this coming Sunday brings about a particularly significant wedding among all the rest: my sister’s wedding. My family and I have been eagerly awaiting this day since my sister’s fiancé asked her to marry him almost five months ago. But, the truth is, our family has been looking forward to this union of theirs for the entirety of a  near ten years of their relationship.

I have found this season of their engagement to be unlike any other. It has been filled with joy, love, bliss, and excitement. Parallelling the incandescent moments of happiness, however, were certain stressful and overwhelming moments as we worked to lock in every detail of the day’s festivities. Throughout this time, I watched my sister work through details and make plans, all while learning the curves of planning a wedding in the first place. Still, I was amazed to see it all come together. I watched florists, caterers, wedding coordinators all come together, working with each other’s preferences, styles, and creative outlets for the best interest of the bride. I witnessed parents, pastors, mentors, and friends step alongside my sister and her fiancé in the planning process- offering them advice, giving them their support, and loving them by serving them in this somewhat hectic but wholly beautiful stage of life. I observed my sister and her husband-to-be grow closer together, working through differences of opinion, resolving conflict, celebrating roadmarks, reflecting on memories of their relationship, and cherishing the love they have built for themselves over the course of the past ten years. Over the past few weeks, especially, I have been able to watch them build their new home where they will begin to build the rest of their lives.

As I prepare to stand alongside my sister on her special day, I cannot help but reflect on her union with her husband from my point of view, a newfound perspective that will forever shed light on my presence as a wedding guest. You see, guests, bridesmaids, groomsmen, officiators, caterers, coordinators, et cetera, are hand selected by the bride and groom to be a part of their special day. On the day of the wedding, all of the staff have to work together as a team to make sure that everything runs smoothly, that flowers, centerpieces, and place settings are displayed to honor the couple’s taste, that the music brings guests and family together to celebrate the happiness of the day, and that every detail reflects the beauty and sentiment of the celebration. But, this teamwork, this support system, exists long after the bride and groom drive away, the lights are turned off, the chairs and tables are put away, and the final candle is blown out. You see, our support for the celebrated couple existed long before any wedding event and it will be just as essential as anniversaries come five, ten, twenty-five, fiftyfold. Attending their wedding day, then, is a reflection of not only the union that we have watched them form, but of the support we will continue to adorn them for the rest of their lives. So, a wedding day not only signifies the beginning of a deeper union between the bride and groom, themselves, but a union that we as the guests form with the couple. From where we stand, we extend our hands to them, we witness the commitment they make to each other, we promise to hold them accountable to their commitment, we humbly and empathetically listen to their future struggles, we selflessly and sacrificially support them in times of need, and we wholeheartedly rejoice with them in times of celebration. From where we stand, we commit to do life with them.

Amid the chaos of choosing between a thousand different swatches of linens, of finding the perfect dress, of picking the perfect cake, and of locking down details of the perfect florals, menus, aesthetics, music, and everything else, we must remind ourselves of the love that warrants the craze in planning such a celebration in the first place. As we let go of our desire for perfection or our longing to control every detail to make sure everything goes exactly as planned, we must be reminded of the love that transcends perfection and surrenders to humility. As we begin to surrender to the will of things beyond our control, we may notice that this union glorifies a deeper meaning beyond anything that could be found in the events of a single day. When we open our hearts to this couple we adore, we witness the forming of a union between two imperfect people, honoring and bringing glory to a purely perfect entity and a wholly perfect God. So, as we celebrate with the couple, as family, as a member of the wedding party, or as a guest, we commit ourselves to support and join with all the sacrifices, desires, dreams, ambitions, achievements, and opportunities that this couple will undertake. As we witness the bride and groom vow to one another, we make our own vow to them, to strengthen, empower, equip, and encourage their union all the days of their lives.

While You Get to Where You’re Going

Sri Chinmoy once said, “Ours is a divine journey; therefore, this journey has neither a beginning nor an end… This journey has a goal, but it does not stop at any goal, for it has come to realise that today’s goal is only the starting point of tomorrow’s journey.” Whenever I am upset about something my mom always says to me, “Find something good about it; find something about it that you can take joy in.” Usually, this piece of advice only frustrates me more as I stew on what I think I deserve or how I believe I ought to be treated. I have often told her, “I don’t want you to tell me how I should be feeling. I just want you to listen to what I’m saying and agree with me.” More often than not, though, I find that when I am most frustrated that someone is not agreeing with my own thoughts or emotions, it is usually because they have advice worth heeding.

At the end of May, I will have been out of college for a full year. In these past nine months, I have experienced time both begrudgingly drag on and simultaneously speed up. At times, I feel like it was just yesterday where I confidently walked across my graduation stage, ready to take on the world with open arms. Since that moment, I feel like no time at all has passed, as I try to frantically plan out the course of my life. Other times, that moment feels like it had taken place centuries ago, as I impatiently wait for the pieces of my life to fall into place. This first year since graduating college has been filled with unparalleled, harsh, worthwhile, and redeeming lessons and realities. My circumstances have not always or not quite nearly aligned with my expectations. I failed, I got back up, I followed my heart, I created, I imagined, and I dreamed again. Throughout the lowest valleys, the points of disappointment, the heartbreak and, likely, the excitement, the joy, and the accomplishments, I have been learning over and over again to take my mom’s advice- I have been learning to let go.

Often, we find ourselves focused on the destination. Our circumstances do not meet our expectations. So, we tell ourselves that whenever we get to where we are going, we will be happy, fulfilled, that our souls will be satisfied, or that our lives will finally have meaning. We prize the end goal- a job everyone else covets, a perfect marriage, a complete family, an impressive degree, a magnificent home, an extravagant life. While we may accept that these goals of ours may not be easily handed to us, that we may have to work to achieve them, we are not always tolerant of any deviations on the road to obtaining our dreams. Somewhere along the way, we have convinced ourselves that the destination is more important than the roads and paths we take to get there. We forget about the value in getting to where we desire to be. But, when we become aware of our present circumstances and happenings, we begin to open our eyes to all we have to offer the world around us, despite where we think we should be or what we believe we should have achieved by now. Once we learn to let go of our expectations of our destinations, once we find joy amid the various bends and curves to our journey’s end, we will begin find value in our failed attempts, unmet expectations, unpredictable circumstances, harsh realities, and unachieved ambitions. When we open our eyes to wherever our feet are planted along our way to our self-defined success, we will embrace imperfection, we will be free of the weight of our own expectations, we will find the courage to surpass the limitations set before us, and we will become comfortable with resting in the “now.”

In every circumstance, situation, lesson, and reality that teaches us to rejoice in our own unique journeys, we will become more enlightened of our own strength. We may, then, see more clearly the value in each step we take towards the destination of our dreams. We may find that there is not a single experience, disappointment, failure, nor any setback that is wasted along the journey in which we undoubtedly learn about our incomparable and invincible nature. When we begin to embrace our journey, we will discover that while we have so much to offer the world, we, just the same, have so much to offer whatever reality we find ourselves in and whatever circumstance we find ourselves amid. So, while you get to where you are going, pause, breathe, let go, look around, embrace the present, and rejoice in the person you are wherever you find yourself along the way.

We are Family

Look after one another.

Marvin J. Ashton said, “If we could look into each other’s hearts and understand the unique challenges each of us faces, I think we would treat each other much more gently, with more love, patience, tolerance, and care.”

Cape Town is a very adventurous and outdoor-oriented city, so my housemates and I would often go on hikes, exploring the endless, breathtaking beauty surrounding us. On our hikes and adventures we would quite literally and physically have to look out for one another. This was made easier and came more naturally as we grew to know each other better. We knew which of us were afraid of heights, which of us got cranky the earliest, which of us were more prone to wandering, which of us were athletic, which of us were determined, which of us were opinionated, which of us were stubborn. We knew each other, so we were able to comprehensively look after one another.

When I first moved to Cape Town to study abroad, I was placed in a house full of people who were complete strangers to me; strangers with profoundly different experiences, wholly different upbringings, ways of life, ideas, opinions, passions, and dreams. I had not known them. I was unaware of what shaped them to be the people they are, the people that would be living with me, sharing a small space with me, for the next five months of my life. However, it did not take long before these people became my family, people I would deeply care for, people I would look out for. Soon enough, these were the people that I stood on the curb outside our house and cried with as we said, not our “goodbyes”, but our “see you laters”. We were the closest thing to a family that each of us had while being thousands of miles away from our actual families. We fought, we made up, we laughed, and cried together. We threatened to beat up anyone that hurt someone in our little family. We explored together. We experienced homesickness together and we helped each other adapt to an entirely different culture and an altogether different way of life. We helped each other process our emotions and experiences, and we leaned on one another for support. We opened up to one another, vulnerably exposed our hearts and souls to one another, and we trusted one another. As we continued to learn more about one another, we grew to selflessly and completely love one another. Throughout those five months, a group of complete strangers became a family.

I still would do anything for any one of these people. But, I know that my family continues to expand. You see, in every season of our lives, we open ourselves to receiving more family. The people placed in our lives throughout the various bends, curves, ebbs, and flows are intentional. We are surrounded with distinct people for a reason, and if we allow ourselves to be open to these people, we continue to build our families. As we continue to receive new family members, new friends, new loved ones, our hearts grow more protective, more compassionate. We learn, then, that only when we truly open ourselves to knowing the people in our lives better, to learning their stories, inquiring of their pasts, listening to their desires and dreams, we equip ourselves to love them better. We see that the more we understand one another, the more territory we are able to explore of each other’s pasts, passions, desires, hopes and dreams, the more deeply and profoundly we are able to care for one another.

As the end of my study abroad experience loomed nearer, I began to associate with the phrase, “Home is where the heart is.” More than a mere typography scribbled on a greeting card or a sentiment exposed through a nostalgic social media post, this phrase embodied everything I was feeling up to my departure. As I tried to make sense of my emotions, of leaving a place I had grown to love and had learned to call home, I came to realize that I was beginning to have many different homes. In all these homes, I had experiences that had shaped my life, I had grown in ways that I never expected, and I had learned to form families with the people around me. I began to realize that I might have different places that I would call home. I accepted the fact that my heart may forever be pulled in different directions. And, in all these different places that my heart would be drawn to, I would have families, people that I grew to trust and learned to adore. So, my home would not just be found in the places that my heart grew to love, but with the people that my heart related to; with various people that made up many different families I grew to adore.

We have the endless opportunity to continue to grow our families, as long as we regularly open our hearts to one another and intentionally invest in learning one another’s stories. Our hearts can grow to love and adorn many different homes that house many different families in every season of life. As we come and go, wander and explore, may we continue to open our hearts to those around us. May we open our eyes to the beauty we see in one another. May we bravely, unapologetically, and vulnerably form many different families in many different places that we call home. And may we continue to learn from our families, grow with our families, and better protect, advocate for, sacrifice for, and selflessly love each family that we form.

Fear Not . . .

Try new things.

Former Senator Robert F. Kennedy once said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” The truth is, no one looks forward to failing. We do not like to fail. We avoid it. We do everything in our power not to succumb to it. And when we do fail, we try to quickly fix it, cover it up, mask it. We try to make it look like, on the contrary, we had been planning the alternative all along. “I meant for that to happen,” “I actually wanted that to happen,” we convince ourselves.

But often, the fear of failure stands in the way of new and undiscovered adventure. Our fear sometimes prevents us from trying new things. If you would have asked me even three years ago if I would ever try bungee jumping, I would have given you an instinctive and confident “no”. I would have told you that I would try almost anything else before I would ever try bungee jumping. Something about flinging myself off a cliff with an all too untrustworthy rope attached to me as my only safety measure did not seem like my ideal sense of adventure. But, I soon found that my fear would be challenged. In 2013, I studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. Not long into settling halfway across the world, I found out that South Africa housed the tallest bungee bridge in the world- Bloukrans Bridge which stands at 216 meters, or 709 feet above the Bloukrans River. While this attraction intrigued most of my friends, the thought of willingly falling nearly 700 feet terrified me. However, a few weeks later, much to my surprise, I found myself paying a questionably inexpensive $75 registration fee for my otherwise invaluable life. Today, the action of jumping off that bridge is almost as vivid as it was in the mere moments that had followed it, and the memory of that experience rings as one of the best experiences of my life.

That day, my fear of bungee jumping almost cost me one of the best experiences of my life. It also almost cost me an invaluable lesson- that trying new things and, in doing so, discovering a newfound strength prepares us to offer all that we are to the world around us. The funny thing about fear is that it convinces us that we are not all we are created to be. It tells us not to go for that job, not to apply to that school, not to pursue that dream. It whispers to us that we are not strong enough, smart enough, talented enough, determined enough. Its deception is powerful and it does not spare a soul. But, when you know your worth and the inherent power in the uniqueness of who you are, you begin to question everything that fear is convincing you of and everything it is holding you back from. You begin to wonder, “Why can’t I apply for that grad school?”, “What is stopping me from going for that job?”, “Why aren’t I strong enough, brave enough, talented enough, good enough?” And, suddenly, when you realize that fear does not have a place in your life, the idea of failure holds no weight. You stop asking yourself, “What if I fail?” And instead challenge yourself, “But, what if I succeed?”

While I am not encouraging everyone jump off a bridge, and while my fear of jumping off that bridge would have understandably crushed an otherwise brief sense of intrigue, that jump signaled an event that would remind me of the power within me for years to come. Overcoming my fear of bungee jumping empowered me to try something I would have never imagined doing nor ever thought I was capable of trying. You see, when we free ourselves of the hold fear has on our lives, we not only discover an inherent power within us, but we discover new destinations that power will lead us to and new uncoverings that power will unearth. The truth is, we have all overcome fear, and we have lived to humbly tell incredible, incomparable, and inconceivable stories because of it. We also have, at times, allowed fear to hold us back. While we undoubtedly learn from missed opportunities, and while we experience grace in the event that fear temporarily scores a win, we learn more about our own power and capability when we experience a world of opportunities from defeating fear. In those times and circumstances that we triumph over fear, we open a whole new world of opportunities that may have otherwise remained concealed. And when we open a new world of inexperience, informality, and thrill, not only do we grow in such an incomparable way, but we offer that growth to the world around us.

So, may you free yourself to take a daring dive off whatever bridge stands in your way. May you experience the thrill and freedom in not only facing your fears, but triumphing over those fears. May you continue to take risks- apply to that grad school halfway across the world, go for that job, sacrifice familiarity, embrace the unexplained and unpredicted. Knowing the power within you and the uniqueness you have to offer the world, may you boldly venture out into the unknown, all the while, unafraid of failure. And, may you dare to fail, to fail again, and to get back up so that you can continue to try new things, unearth new discoveries, and offer those discoveries to the world.

Redefining a Millennial “Merci”

Say please and thank you.

We have all been taught the importance of having good manners. “Be polite,” “Get your elbows off the table,” “Look someone in the eye when they are talking to you,” “Say please and thank you,” are all phrases that our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and teachers have instructed us to abide by. My mom still adamantly reminds me of the importance of writing thank you notes. “It’s just courteous, and it shows good manners,” “I’ve raised you better than this,” “Your rudeness is a reflection on me,” she has gently reminded or reprimanded me from time to time. While I have every intention of making this a habit, I still have thank you cards addressed and ready to mail from when I graduated college this past May. I found out, though, that I was not alone. One of my best friends shared her mom’s insight on the matter, which went something like, “You sure don’t have a problem accepting presents, so you shouldn’t have a problem saying thank you.” After we gave it a good laugh, the truth began to sink in. While I felt better learning that I was not alone, I could not help but think that my group text between two of my best friends was not the only incident where poor manners were lightheartedly acknowledged among a Millennial crowd. Have we forgotten the importance of saying “please” or “thank you”? Have manners been lost in translation throughout the generations? Have we lost the grace of politeness?

You see, the importance in saying “please and thank you” does not lie in the string of letters that make up the sentiment as much as it does in the action of respecting those around us. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word polite as “respectful and considerate of other people.” Likely, it defines respect as “due regard for the feelings or rights of others.” Our proper manners, then, are important not for the light that it casts on our own character, but for the way that it illuminates others. We say “please and thank you,” we express our gratitude, we hold open doors, we say “excuse me” and “bless you” not so that we look like good people in return, but in order that our actions protect, advance, and strengthen the dignity, humanity, and rights of others. Our view of humanity and equality, and the way in which we love others act as the foundation for our politeness. In return, our manners, remind us of our humanity. The way that we treat others is reflective of the way that we view others. We may, then, measure the goodness of our manners in relation to how highly we esteem the goodness of others. When we respect the equality of others, despite whatever difference in race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or anything else, we will begin to elevate the respect in which we adorn all those around us.

We may have lost the imminence in timely expressing our thanks and gratitude or in exuding good manners. We may have found social etiquette, morals, or ethics to be archaic. But, our respect for one another, our respect for equality, should be timeless. The way that we view and perceive of one another, on the basis of our shared humanity, should be the driving force of our manners. Once we undergo this paradigm shift, that our manners are not so much a reflection of our own goodness as they are of the goodness of others, we will revert to a mindset that seeks the best for others. Speaking for our generation, we must be the Millennials that begin to shift the focus on the era of intention: intentional kindness, intentional goodness, intentional compassion, intentional gratitude, intentional graciousness, intentional respect. We must act out of respect and love for one another in order that we begin to redefine the Millennial “merci.”

As we grow from one another and continually develop our manners, may we assume, once again, the art of respect. Man or woman, young or old, may we act out of respect for others in order to illuminate and reinforce their fullest potential and the fullness of their rights, talents, and passions. With a change in perspective, with a focus on the goodness of others rather than the goodness of ourselves, may we redeem our “please and thank you’s.” May we rescue chivalry, unearth decency, preserve kindness, and don politeness. And with this redemption of politeness and respect, may we continue to redefine the relationships in our lives and spread love intentionally, wherever we may go.

Be All that You can Be, and Bloom

Do your best.

A common quote from Zen Shin Talks says, “A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms.” We have grown up heeding advice to do our best, reinforcing others and ourselves of an undeniably resilient spirit within us. But, at one point or another, we have all had the fear that our best may not be enough. So, we begin to feel defeated or discouraged. We begin to believe that we are inadequate, worthless, hopeless. But, we must begin to tell ourselves that our best is our best, even if it does not produce the results that we had hoped for.

You see, our best is not contingent upon our expectations. I have learned this most recently since graduating college. As graduation loomed nearer and nearer, I had a perfect picture of what my life would be post-college- I would hold a full time job with benefits and with the promise of advancing further in my career, I would move into my own place with a few friends, I would become totally, financially and otherwise, self-sufficient. But, my best efforts yielded a much different reality. In this transitional period, I found myself in an LSAT prep course, committing to taking the next step towards obtaining a law degree. However, throughout the course, I felt my heart pulling in another direction- a passion I had altogether known, but somewhat overlooked. I cannot explain one specific event or life-altering moment when I decided that I wanted to pursue writing instead; rather, it was a more gradual and persistent pull at my heart. When I consciously decided to let go of my expectations of what my post-grad life would hold, and instead give this writing gig a go, doors began to unexpectedly open. Today, I can wholeheartedly and gratefully look back on the past seven months and notice an unparalleled amount of opportunities that have both validated, strengthened, and have altogether made my passion for writing more worthwhile. I have learned that while doing my best has not always resulted in the dreams and desires that I had cultivated, it has contributed to every experience, opportunity, and event that has shaped me into the woman I am today. Where I once compared myself to the numerous Facebook status updates and Instagram posts that depicted my peers’ seemingly perfect and successful lives, I now am able to look upon my own experiences with a grateful and humble heart- realizing that my own journey does not find its worth in comparison to that of another.

The truth is, performing our best may yield entirely different results than what we had hoped for or planned. We may not find ourselves in that dream job we had hoped of obtaining, we may not find ourselves with that family we longed of having or that marriage we had desired with all our hearts. We may not be in that dream house we told ourselves we would have by the age of thirty-five. We may not be successful in the way we imagined, self-sufficient in the way we planned, or thriving in the way we pictured we would be. But, just because the vision of our lives does not match the circumstances of our lives does not mean that our best has amounted to failure or that we ourselves are worthless. Rather, the unexpected course that our lives have taken yield a certain freedom where we can explore the desires of our hearts without the pressures we have placed on ourselves. By the grace that the events of our lives became unaligned with our own expectations, we become more open to the alternative. When we become more open to these unexpected realities, we allow ourselves to let go of the grip on our own vision of what our life ought to be, and we live freely in what our lives presently are. Slowly and gradually, we begin to move out of our own way.

What happens also when we become free to perform our best aside from our own expectations is that we find that our best is not dependent on the success of others. When we become free to release our best efforts from the confine of our own expectations, we become even more free to release our best efforts from their comparison to the best efforts of others. It is easy to fall into a cycle of comparing our drive, ambition, pursuits, or attempts to those of our friends, family, peers, classmates, Facebook friends, and Instagram followers. But, when we allow ourselves to fail and to fall short of our own expectations, only to begin to revel in all the opportunity that surrounds our shortcomings, we will begin to grow more confident in who we are despite what we may see through whatever status updates and carefully selected snapshots of our friends’ lives. When we free ourselves from our own expectations and from comparing our lives to those of our friends and peers, we may even begin to purely and truthfully celebrate the achievements and accomplishments that we see on social media. Instead of feeling discouraged, jealous, insecure, and unworthy whenever a baby announcement, marriage proposal, job offer, grad school acceptance, or life achievement floods our newsfeed, we may begin to feel genuinely happy and selflessly pleased for our peers. We are able to free ourselves to be happy for peers because we come to know that our own success, our own journey, and our own growth, are not made worthy based in comparison to the achievements of those around us.

So, take a deep breath, let go of whatever unattained object or achievement is telling you that you are a failure, a disappointment. Be thankful for these unexpected circumstances, for they may be directing you to otherwise unforeseen, overlooked, or concealed opportunities. Go forth and bloom, try and fail, get back up and discover the course of where this beautifully unpredictable life is leading you. Be confident that your worth is not defined by your expectations, nor is it judged in comparison to the achievements of all those around you. Rather, your worth is found in the midst of all your achievements and failures, alike, that empower you to be all that you can be, in the very best way.